The Medicinal Benefits of Cranberries

Cranberries are one of the few fruits indigenous to North America. They were used by Native peoples in their diet, in ceremonies and for medicinal purposes to help treat liver, stomach and blood disorders.

Cranberries are probably best known for their use in the treatment of urinary tract infections (UTIs) which are usually the result of bacteria from the intestinal tract, primarily E. coli, moving into the urinary tract. It was originally believed that their medicinal benefit was due to acidification of the urine. However, recent research has shown that cranberries contain proanthocyanidins which prevent bacteria, including E. coli, from adhering to the bladder and the walls of the urinary tract, thereby helping to reduce the risk of UTIs.

The anti-adhesion properties of cranberries are also believed to inhibit other types of bacteria, such as those that cause stomach ulcers and periodontal gum disease. Preliminary studies suggest that cranberries may help in the prevention of stomach ulcers by reducing the occurrence of infection by Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria that plays a role in the formation of stomach ulcers. Other research suggests that cranberries prevent Streptococcus mutans bacteria from adhering to the teeth, thereby helping to prevent diseases of the teeth and gums.

A study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry (November 19, 2001) found that, in a comparison of 19 common fruits, cranberries contain the highest amount of antioxidant phenols which provide protection from harmful free radicals. Phenols are believed to reduce the risk of certain cancers, heart disease and stroke, and studies are being done to see if cranberries can help protect against the development of these diseases.

Preliminary research at the University of Western Ontario found that supplementing the diet with cranberries led to a lower incidence of tumor development in human breast cancer cells, demonstrating that cranberries may have anticancer properties. The results of a recent study conducted by Laval University in Quebec City showed that drinking cranberry juice led to increased levels of high density lipoprotein (HDL). HDL is often referred to as the “good” cholesterol because it helps to protect against heart disease. Researchers found that for optimal effects, one cup of light (low-sugar) cranberry juice per day works best.

Cranberries are rich in vitamin C, low in calories and they have low glycemic values. Uncooked cranberries have higher antioxidant levels than those that have been cooked, but many people don’t like the tartness of raw cranberries.

The most common way to add cranberries to the diet is to drink cranberry juice, but it’s important to buy only the unsweetened varieties to avoid sugar or artificial sweeteners. (Cranberry sauces and dried cranberries usually contain sugar as well.) Fresh or frozen cranberries can also be added to oatmeal, crumbles, muffins, scones, smoothies, etc.

Cranberry is also available in capsule form—just be sure to choose a supplement that is made from the whole cranberry, not just the juice, to get the most benefit.

Considering the multiple health benefits of this nutrient-packed fruit, you may want to add cranberries to your diet.